am a teacher in a small town in Vermont. When I first began my career in 1965, the single greatest offense against order here was gum-chewing. How simple and ancient that seems now. Last month, the unusual clack of the public address system in the middle of the school day signaled that something was wrong. "We are in a Code Three emergency," barked the voice of the principal.
ode Three? What in God's name was that? A check of my emergency card instructions indicated that we were to be in a state of "lockdown" whatever that was.
t turned out that a former student of mine had made veiled threats, claiming he had reason to "take out" members of the school based upon past injustices. He had recently been treated at a psychiatric institution and released. The fact that a local gun shop had been burglarized created even more cause for speculation. Although I put on the happy "there-is-no-real-problem" face for my students, I did not feel comfortable.
hen we learned that authorities could not find the suspect. This information, together with the presence of police cruisers parked outside the building, took the anxiety to a new level. Police announced a plan designed to keep us all safe a plan that remains in effect today, as the young man has still not been apprehended.
ithin hours the open, welcoming atmosphere of this small suburban school had become closed and suspicious. There were suddenly guards ready to question anyone who entered the building. Administrators were issued cell phones and pagers, and the general population was on edge. It was clear we had entered the new millennium with far less naiveté. We were taking no chances.
he doors are now locked and everyone has to access the building through a central entryway. All visitors are checked and stopped. Coaches are issued cell phones to help protect athletes when they are on the fields, and the district Web page still provides parents with important information about the current status of the situation. Gone is our innocence. I trust that we now have an inkling of what our big city brothers and sisters have felt for years.
et people adapt. Within days of the new routine in the building, students and faculty alike "got used to" the new restrictions. After the first week it was like nothing had happened. I used to be amazed at pictures from war-torn countries that showed people going about their daily routines while war rages on about them. I didn't know just how easy it would be to give up a freedom here or there in the name of safety.
remind myself that things were not always this way. In 1970, as a new English teacher seeking to relate anything contemporary to Homer's Odyssey, I ran Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey for my freshmen class. At the Dawn of Man sequence, the central ape character named Moonwatcher learns to use a bone as a tool. It takes only a few moments before a violent crashing to an opponent's skull transforms this "tool" into an instrument of fear and power. The repeated bludgeoning brought gasps of disgust from the kids back then. They were truly appalled. Eyes were shut; air was inhaled and then exhaled in an attempt to deal with the horror on the screen. When Moonwatcher killed his adversary, it was meant to serve as a tale of man's evolution and nature.
n the year 2000, I had cause to run the film again, this time for my Video Production class. I awaited the reenactment of the killing scene with interest. Now the reaction was one of cheering, applause, and general approval; the killing was met with the blessing of the multitude. I can't help but ask what has made such seemingly unacceptable behavior not only acceptable, but also applauded and I wonder what it bodes for the future. Is the cadre of science fiction writers who forecast a world run amuck proven true?
ut then I look again. All across the school are the faces of a generation ready to become Presidential Scholars, take over local businesses, and generally bring us to the new century with anticipation and hope. Any teacher can see in kids' expressions the assurance that life is just as simple as a Star Wars movie: goodness will triumphalbeit with some difficulty. And two other themes of Kubrick's film are, after all, "rebirth" and "hope for humankind."
o, to those who would point to the views championed in Lord of the Flies, that humankind's violent nature is innate and will ultimately cause its downfall to them I say: not with the kids I see every day.